Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Doll’s Eyes (Actaea pachypoda)

A close relative of Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), this plant has smaller round tufts of white flowers. But its most striking feature is these berries, white with black pupil-like spots. Doll’s Eyes is certainly a descriptive name, but perhaps Insane Muppet Eyes would be even more descriptive. (The bright magenta stem adds a certain something.) This plant grew in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon, where it was fruiting in late August.

Do not eat the berries. They want to kill you. Can’t you see it in their eyes? Another name for this plant is “White Baneberry,” and you should take the “bane” part seriously.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ACTAÈA L. BANEBERRY, COHOSH. Sepals 4 or 6, falling off when the flower expands. Petals 4-10, small, flat, spatulate, on slender claws. Stamens numerous, with slender white filaments. Pistil single; stigma sessile, depressed, 2-lobed. Seeds smooth, flattened, and packed horizontally in 2 rows. — Perennials, with ample 2-3-ternately compound termina! raceme of white flowers. (From aktea, actaea, ancient names of the Elder, transferred by Linnaeus.)

A. álba (L.) Mill. (WHITE B.) Leaflets more incised and sharply toothed [than those of A. rubra]; raceme ellipsoid; petals slender, mostly truncate at the end, appearing to be transformed stamens; pedicels thickened in fruit, as large as the peduncle and red, the globular-ovoid berries white. — Rich woods, flowering a week or two later than the other [which flowers in April and May], and more common westward and southward.

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